What Is Chrome OS?

What is Chrome OS?

The war between Google and Microsoft wages on. And that’s good news for consumers.

The last year of the conflict between the two computing giants has led to the release of Microsoft’s new (and quite popular) Bing search engine, as well as many innovations from Google that have varied in their levels of popularity. For my part, I don’t know where I’d be without Google News Timeline or Google’s outstanding new browser Chrome. The race for dominance on today’s web — as well as the push for top dog in the new “semantic” web — has led to a great number of user friendly and intuitive functions.

Now Google is taking on a Microsoft product nearly as old as the web itself — Windows. Google’s popular Chrome browser is set to be the inspiration for an entirely new operating system, one that Google promises will be “lightweight” and “fast”. In the eyes of many, Google is already leaps and bounds ahead of Microsoft in terms of web presence. Now Google wil set their sights on Microsoft’s largest income producer.

The first version of Windows was released in 1985, though it was not popular. Windows 1.0 was little more than an extension of MS Dos. If only Microsoft could have seen into the future, a time when the Windows operating system would be responsible for powering 90% or more of the world’s computers. Success did not come easy for Microsoft — in fact, it took five years for Microsoft to come up with a version of Windows that garnered any success. Windows 3.0, released in 1990, was a big hit.

Why is Windows such a boon for Microsoft? For one, it acts as a gateway for PC users into the world of other Microsoft products. Every Windows based desktop computer comes with a pre packaged requirement that a user of that computer take advatange of other Microsoft software.

What does this kind of “software imperative” mean for Microsoft’s competitors, like Google? The stated goal of Google, especially during the past couple of years of struggle against Microsoft, is to gather information from all over the world and use that collective of knowledge to earn their bread and butter.

Google has decided to return fire on Windows — and soon, all of us who utilize Google’s technology instead of Microsoft (myself included) will be given the opportunity to use a Google OS — Chrome OS — for all of our computing needs. “Google everywhere” could really mean something soon.

How will Chrome OS be different from other operating systems? According to insiders at Google, Chrome OS will break down desktop functions to their bare minimum. Rather than counting on your computer to crunch numbers and work hard, major applications for desktop work will run via your web browser (hopefully tuned in to Google products) which will be run on Google’s massive server capabilities.

Think of Chrome OS as a drawbridge rather than the whole castle.

The main difference between Google and Microsoft has always been marketing strategy. Microsoft earns the bulk of their money by charging customers once for the use of the Windows operating system — ranging from $20 for the now elderly Windows XP software up to $150 or more for Windows Vista and the mysterious and soon to be released Windows 7. Customers pay the one time fee and Microsoft is done earning money from them, for the most part.

Here’s the first big difference between Windows and Chrome OS — Google is probably not going to charge a dime for the use of Chrome OS. How does this work out for them? Google expects customers to quickly establish an online presence, and use as many Google services as possible. Web search? Use Google Chrome and other Google search apps. Want to check your email? They hope you’ll sign up for Gmail . . . and on down the line. Remember that pesky “Google Everywhere” line you keep hearing? Chrome OS will act as the starting line in Google’s race to dominate your web presence.

Chrome OS is the result of Google sitting on a big pile of cash, hiring the best engineers in the business, and thinking of computing as a blank slate. Google asks itself — “What can we do that has never been done?”

The outlook for Chrome OS is not all roses and kittens. Microsoft, working inside of a legacy stretching back into the 1980s, doesn’t worry about new operating systems relative compatability with older software and technology. If you own a bundle of programs and files that you can’t live without, it isn’t likely that new versions of Microsoft technology will keep you from using your favorite functions.

Chrome OS, on the other hand, may not be compatible with your old “stuff”. Say you’re a consumer who wants to get hold of Chrome OS but has a ton of software that is necessary to your daily functions. Just like Google proper, you and your computer will have to start with a blank slate after installing Chrome OS. You may face the prospect of losing all your old computer junk.

There’s also a segment of the population that are simply too involved with certain computing functions to consider a switch to a “lightweight” OS. Chrome OS seems aimed at people like me who mostly use computers for web searches, email, document editing, and other small scale computing tasks. Gamers, video or photo editors, or anyone who uses computers to run specialized and complex software will not be able to take advantage of Chrome OS.

Still, the number of people who — like me — use computers for the most basic of functions are likely to be pleased as punch with Google’s new OS.

Don’t forget that for the first time, there will be a third player in the OS wars. Apple and Microsoft have had a ball advertising against each other. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear “I’m a PC” or “I’m a Mac, he’s a PC” blasting from my television screens. Will Apple and Microsoft gang up on the young rascal Google, or will they choose to simply ignore it?

Google’s announcement of Chrome OS, as usual, is about as interesting as the product itself. Microsoft is set to launch Windows 7 this coming fall. Unlike Windows Vista, the predecessor to their new product, Windows 7 is getting solid reviews from users of the largest growing segment of PC ownership — portables. Google’s Chrome OS will have a tough time changing the rules of the OS game at a time when Microsoft has seemingly just gotten these rules right.

Don’t get too excited about Chrome OS. Google says it won’t be ready until the summer of 2010. Google is hoping that the economy will be in full recovery mode around that time, though the timing may be just as bad if Windows 7 gains popularity and eats up the OS market.

Google has a long way to go to make Chrome OS popular. The current incarnation of Chrome, a simple but very user friendly web browser, holds the tiniest of browser market shares, a measly 1.2%. Google’s stunning smartphone program, Android, is well reviewed but only available on a couple of phones. The one area where Chrome OS could make a huge impact is in the cult like open source Linux OS. In fact, Google’s Chrome OS reportedly uses some of the Linux “kernel”, that part of Linux that connects the OS to the computer itself.

The bottom line? Chrome OS is a direct shot across Microsoft’s massive brow. As I find myself saying again and again, only time will tell.